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Meet the locals

Meet the locals travel guide

Community-based tourism, homestays, couchsurfing – it really is a small world out there

Meeting people from different cultures is one of the best reasons to step outside your front door – the stuff of lifelong memories.

And while much of the travel industry has often seemed devoted to keeping travellers cocooned in resorts, the times are a-changing. From homestays to house-swaps, couchsurfing to indigenous-run lodges, the opportunities to share the lives of others are growing fast. ‘Community-based tourism’ is the buzz-phrase for many emerging travel destinations, and networks of guides, homestays and local ‘greeters’ are springing up worldwide.

Web brings travel closer to homes

Thanks to the internet, it’s becoming much easier to book community-based experiences reliably, and they’re almost always cheaper than conventional tours and accommodation.

For example, instead of splashing out on hotels, why not tour India staying with Indian families (www.mahindrahomestays.com)? Instead of taking the standard guided tour of Chicago or Melbourne, get a free show-around from a clued-up local instead (www.globalgreeternetwork.com). Instead of sightseeing in Peru’s Sacred Valley, stay in a Peruvian village – and learn Spanish while you’re at it. Or hook up with travel website tripbod.com who have a vast network of guides around the world who can help you set up trip itineraries, must-see destinations and show you around as a guide.

And almost anywhere in the world, you can now find someone with a spare sofa to put you up (www.couchsurfing.com) or a home to swap with your own (www.homelink.org.uk)

Informal or organised?

There’s no one-stop-shop for these experiences, and what’s on offer varies widely from one destination to the next. Some – like Korea’s temple-stay scheme - are well-organised, government-backed and quality controlled.

Others are informal, internet-based networks open to all and rated only by other travellers’ experiences. What they all offer though, is an honest, untouristy insight into your destination, and a way for local people to benefit from your visit socially and economically.

So do your research (use our forum) to find recommended experiences where you’re going. If you’re meeting a stranger (couchsurfing, for example), take sensible safety precautions – tell others where you’ll be, and meet first in a public place. And if you’ve had a good ‘local travel’ experience, do post about it in our forum so others can follow in your footsteps.

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